30 May 2024

Queens of Britain Series: Lady Jane Grey

Welcome to the Queens of Britain series. In 2024, the blog will spotlight the reigning queens from the island of Great Britain. Check back each month to learn about the women who led their nations.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey
by Paul Delaroche at the National Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

Lady Jane Grey was only 16 years old when the people entrusted to look after her future set her on a path that would lead to her death.

In 1537, Lady Jane was born as the third child of her 20-year-old parents Henry Grey Marquess of Dorset and the former Frances Brandon, who was the oldest child of Princess Mary Tudor. Lady Jane's great-uncle King Henry VIII had resolved all of his problems a few years earlier by divorcing his first wife Catherine of Aragon, who had given him only a daughter, and then beheaded his second wife Anne Boleyn on trumped-up adultery charges. (See my post We Three Queens.)She also had given him only a daughter. In the year of Jane's birth, however, Henry was happily married to the docile Jane Seymour, for whom his new grandniece was named, and his new Queen would deliver him his longed-for son by end of the year. Then, she would promptly die from childbed fever setting a desperate Henry back out in the marriage market where he would eventually add three more wives to his famous collection.

Despite Henry VIII's feverish desire for a male heir, the Tudor Dynasty was replete with females. In addition to Henry's two daughters by Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively, his sisters produced three daughters and only one surviving son. Jane's mother produced two more daughters after her and no surviving sons. The women of the family were educated as well as the men. Jane learned seven languages, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so she could read ancient texts in their original languages. She was taught theology, philosophy, rhetoric, logic, and history. Having been born after Great Uncle Henry broke with the Roman Church, she was raised as a Protestant and was personally devout. 

After Henry's death, his nine-year-old son succeeded as King Edward VI. Soon after, nine-year-old Jane was sent to live with King Henry's widow, Queen Catherine Parr and her new husband Thomas Seymour, who was a maternal uncle to the new king. The 12-year-old Princess Elizabeth also joined the Seymour household. Under the guidance of the devoutly Protestant Catherine, Elizabeth's and Jane's humanist and religious education was continued with even fervor. Within a couple of years, Catherine tragically died after childbirth and Thomas was soon executed for treason when he tried to oust his own brother from his role as Protector to their nephew the King. Jane returned to the guardianship of her father, who was created Duke of Suffolk at around the same time. Jane found herself more frequently at court, where it was hoped she would find a noble husband.

Meanwhile, the young King Edward had never had very robust health. His reign would last only six years. The Protestant lords who surrounded the young king became concerned about what would happen if he died. All of the descendants of the Tudors were female and/or Scottish. Worse, the most senior, Edward's half-sister Mary was a devout Catholic who would certainly return the nation to Rome. His other half-sister Elizabeth was an unknown quantity as she had kept her personal religious convictions as quiet as possible. Besides, both Mary and Elizabeth has been declared illegitimate by their father, despite being added back into the line of succession before Henry died. 

During young Edward's last spring, his chief minister the Duke of Northumberland hatched a plan to maintain his own authority into the next reign. The plan included two parts: convince the Protestant Edward to set aside his sisters as potential heirs and declare his cousin Jane and her male heirs as the future monarchs. Then, Northumberland and Henry Grey set about getting Lady Jane some male heirs by marrying the 16-year-old to his 18-year-old son Guilford Dudley. 

Jane and Guilford were married in May 1553 in a joint ceremony that also included the marriages of her sister Katherine to the future Earl of Pembroke and Guilford's sister Katherine to the future Earl of Huntingdon. 

On July 6, 1553, the newly wedded teenager was proclaimed Queen when Edward died from tuberculosis. Despite the machinations of her father and father-in-law who had assumed she would be easy to control, Jane immediately showed her mettle by refusing to have her husband proclaimed King next to her. 

News necessarily traveled more slowly in those days, but it was not long before Mary Tudor learned of her brother's death and of her cousin's perfidy. As she made her way to London to assert her claim, the people rose with her. For all that had happened across her life to marginalize her and despite any fears of what a truly Catholic monarch could mean, Mary was still the daughter of old King Henry and a true princess in their eyes. 

In London, the same Privy Council that had proclaimed Jane Queen just nine days earlier, withered in the face of Mary's advance on London. Jane was deposed. She was arrested along with her husband, her father, and her father-in-law. All were convicted of treason and Northumberland was quickly executed. The newly proclaimed Queen Mary, however, spared the others. Mary had grown up with and remained lifelong friends with Frances Brandon Grey, Jane's mother. Jane's own sweet letter of apology also helped cement Mary's feeling that Jane had been a pawn in the hands of the conniving Northumberland. Sentiment perhaps kept young Jane alive although the three remained separately imprisoned at the Tower of London. 

As the long unmarried Mary rushed to find a Catholic royal husband, however, the tide would change quickly. Once she had settled upon her cousin King Philip II of Spain two things began to work against Jane. First, Philip did not relish the idea of a claimant to the throne being kept alive as a potential rallying point for uprisings. Second, there was an uprising. A man named Thomas Wyatt launched (or helped to launch) a rebellion against Mary's proposed marriage to a foreign king. With Jane's father as one of the conspirator's Mary could hardly oppose Philip's assertions that her throne and her own life would always be at risk as long as Jane lived. And, so it was, just six months after she had been proclaimed Queen of England and then deposed, Jane Grey was beheaded at the Tower of London not long after her husband had met the same fate. Their brief, ill-fated marriage found them buried together forever at the Chapel of Peter ad Vincula nine months after the wedding. Her father met the headsman 11 days later, while her mother Frances remained at Queen Mary's side. (For more about the Queens killed by the Tudor monarchs, see my post, Killing Queens: A Bloody Tudor Heritage.) 

Over the centuries, Jane's life has been greatly romanticized as the tragic heroine who was thrust into a role she did not choose but for which she paid the ultimate price. Given that she is also remembered for keen intelligence and her pious devotion to Protestantism, Lady Jane probably does not get enough credit for the path she ultimately followed. She would have been as keenly ready for the role as the two female cousins who followed her. The religious and political turmoil of the next decade might have been different, but still turbulent. The only likely conclusion we can draw is that, as a young married woman, she probably would have generated heirs which neither of her successors did. The Stewarts would have stayed in Scotland and union of the English and Scottish thrones would have been delayed or perhaps would never have happened at all. Jane's brief reign is one of the interesting "what if" questions in history.

To this day, her reign remains the shortest in English history.

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni 
Empress Matilda 
Margaret Maid of Norway 
Lady Jane Grey
Queen Mary I - coming in June 2024
Queen Elizabeth I - coming in July 2024
Mary Queen of Scots - coming in August 2024
Queen Mary II - coming in September 2024
Queen Anne - coming in October 2024
Queen Victoria - coming in November 2024
Queen Elizabeth II - coming in December 2024

Lady Jane Reference Guide
Lady Jane Grey Revisited

Archive for Lady Jane Grey on Venetian Red
A Genius on the Throne: Lady Jane Grey Remembered on The Gale Review
Jane Grey: The Doomed Queen on Travel Through Time
Lady Jane: Famous Trials at Guildhall on Guildhall Library Blog
Lady Jane Grey on Historic UK
Lady Jane Grey on the Official British Monarchy site
Lady Jane Grey on Royalty Now
Lady Jane Grey, England's Forgotten Queen on Medieval Manuscripts blog
Lady Jane Grey and a Letter to Shock Victorians on a Place for Truth
Lady Jane Grey: The Nine Day Queen on Historic Royal Palaces
Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen on On the Tudor Trail
Lady Jane Grey--Nine Facts about the Nine Day Queen on Odyssey Opera
Lady Jane Grey: Queen of England for Nine Days on Womenary
Lady Jane Grey's Correspondence on The National Archives
Lady Jane Grey's Letters from the Tower on Medieval Manuscripts blog
A Lesson from the Life of Lady Jane Grey on Learning Ladyhood
Meet...Lady Jane Grey on The Box Museum Gallery Archive
Nine Days a Queen and the "Execution of Lady Jane Grey" on Voegelin View
A Tudor Tragedy: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey on The Tudor Chest
Twelve Tips for Writing About Lady Jane Grey on Sharon Kay Penman

28 April 2024

Queens of Britain Series: Margaret Maid of Norway

Welcome to the Queens of Britain series. In 2024, the blog will spotlight the reigning queens from the island of Great Britain. Check back each month to learn about the women who led their nations.

Margaret Maid of Norway
image of stained glass window on Orkney
by Colin Smith via Wikimedia Commons
After years of negotiation, seven-year-old Queen Margaret finally boarded the ship that would carry her to her kingdom, inherited from her maternal grandfather King Alexander III of Scotland. Young Margaret, better known as the Maid of Norway, had never known her mother or her mother's family. Her mother, Margaret of Scotland, had died shortly after her birth leaving the infant in the care of her father, King Eric II Magnusson of Norway, who found himself a widower and single father at the age of 15.

Although the marriage treaty between Eric and Margaret of Scotland left the bride and her children in the line of succession to the Scottish throne, the baby's royal future was still just a remote chance. King Alexander's teenage son Prince Alexander and his bride were expected to carry on the dynasty. But, when baby Margaret was just seven months old, her uncle Alexander died. The hope that his wife might be pregnant with an heir was soon dashed. At that moment Margaret became the only heir to Scotland. Alexander moved quickly to have his nobles swear allegiance to baby Margaret as his heir.

However, Alexander also tried to stabilize the succession by marrying again. Now in his forties, he had waited a decade after the death of of his first wife, Margaret's grandmother,  Margaret of England, sister of King Edward I of England, a decade earlier, he at last remarried. Just six months later, he rode out in a storm to see his young wife. The next morning, he was found along the road, his neck broken in a fall from his horse. The usual wait to see if his new wife would produce a posthumous heir took place, but eventually it was clear that the Maid of Norway was the last survivor of the Scottish House of Dunkeld.

Not quite three years old, Margaret had become the first Queen of Scots, nearly three centuries before the much better-remembered Mary Queen of Scots.

A toddler and a female as monarch was not ideal in the 13th Century. The rivalry between other claimants Robert the Bruce and John Balliol threatened not just the peace of the kingdom but the little queen herself.

Fearful for her safety, Eric kept his daughter in Norway while negotiating a marriage that would not only ensure her well-being but also the well-being of her kingdom and would eventually unite Scotland and England under one ruler. Eric accepted the marriage offer from his late wife's uncle, King Edward I of England, to unite his son Edward of Caenarfon (later King Edward II) to Eric's daughter Margaret. The intended groom was a year younger than his toddler fiancee. Nevertheless, a political match of this magnitude would at last bring some peace to Scotland, which had been battling England for centuries, and eventually, the couple's child would sit on both thrones. The idea had initially been floated by King Alexander before his death, when Margaret's succession was not yet certain.

Once the Scots had been reassured that Scotland would remain independent from England, they ratified the marriage treaty. Once Margaret reached her kingdom, her marriage would be official even though both partners were not yet old enough. Margaret said farewell to her father and set sail for Scotland. The stormy North Sea drove the party far to the north to the island of Orkney, which was still Norwegin territory at the time. When she came to shore, the seven-year-old Queen Margaret was very ill, possibly from severe seasickness. Weak and depleted, she died in the arms of the Bishop who had been sent to look after her. Today, a stained glass window in the Lerwick Town Hall on Orkney remembers her brief and tragic visit.

By the time the Scottish lords who had been gathering in Perth for her coronation, learned of her death, the little body was already on its way back to Norway. Her heartbroken father confirmed her identity before she was buried with her mother. Despite this, a decade later, a "False Margaret" emerged to claim the Scottish throne--she was burned at the stake for her efforts. 

In Scotland, Margaret's death set a match that would burn for decades as 13 claimants, including John Balliol and Robert the Bruce, battled for control of the Kingdom, with King Edward I heavily interfering and seeking to assert his authority there.

Many scholars today tend to count Margaret at Scotland's first reigning queen. However, that assertion is disputed because she never actually arrived in Scotland, and more importantly, she was never crowned. As for this blogger, I prefer to give the little Maid of Scotland her due as a Queen. 

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni 
Empress Matilda 
Margaret Maid of Norway
Lady Jane Grey
Queen Mary I - coming in June 2024
Queen Elizabeth I - coming in July 2024
Mary Queen of Scots - coming in August 2024
Queen Mary II - coming in September 2024
Queen Anne - coming in October 2024
Queen Victoria - coming in November 2024
Queen Elizabeth II - coming in December 2024

Death of Margaret, Maid of Norway, Queen of Scotland on European Royal History
The Death of Margaret, Maid of Norway on BBC Bitesize
The Maid of Norway, The Child Queen of Scots on Fourteenth Century Fiend
The Maid of Norway--The Tragic Story of Scotland's First Queen Regnant on History...The Interesting Bits
Margaret Maid of Norway on BBC Bitesize
Margaret Maid of Norway on Britroyals
Margaret Maid of Norway on Royal.UK
Margaret (Maid of Norway) on ScotClans
Margaret (Maid of Norway) on Time Ref
Margaret Maid of Norway on Timewise Traveller
Margaret 'the Maid of Norway' on English Monarchs
Margaret the Maid of Norway on Rex Factor
Margaret the Maid of Norway on Visit Heritage
Margaret Maid of Norway and Queen of Scotland on Medievalists
Margaret Maid of Norway, Queen of Scots on Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Margaret, Maid of Norway: How Scotland's Fate Took a Tumble from a Horse and Fell into the Delicate Hands of a Child on The Scotsman
Margaret, Tragic Queen of Scotland, Maid of Norway on Owlcation
Queen Margaret, Maid of Norway on Undiscovered Scotland
Queens Regnant: Margaret, Maid of Norway on History of Royal Women
Unlucky Princesses: Margaret, Maid of Norway on The Creative Historian

24 March 2024

Queens of Britain Series: Matilda

Welcome to the Queens of Britain series. In 2024, the blog will spotlight the reigning queens from the island of Great Britain. Check back each month to learn about the women who led their nations.

Her moment had finally arrived. The day she had planned for since she was a young woman, but she couldn't seize the reins her father had left her. How she must have cursed the pregnant belly that kept her trapped on the wrong side of the English Channel while her cousin usurped her place.

The English crown had not been Matilda's original destiny. Like so many princesses, she had been sent as a tiny girl to a distant land to serve as a political pawn. Her father, King Henry I, was the youngest son of a bastard who had asserted his tenuous claim to the English throne in a military power move that we remember today as the Norman Conquest. As the third king of a young dynasty, Henry I had married Edith of Scotland, a descendant of England's revered King Alfred the Great as well as the King of Scotland's daughter. Taking the more Norman-sounding name of Matilda upon her marriage, she also named her daughter Matilda while her son was named William Adelin after the Conqueror. The couple had produced a healthy heir as well as a daughter who could extend their political power and military might.

So, it was no surprise that the King and Queen welcomed envoys from the future Holy Roman Emperor who asked for Princess Matilda as an imperial bride. Little Matilda was only eight years old the last time she saw her mother and sailed away to Germany to meet her 24-year-old fiance. Since she was so young, she was raised in a separate household and trained in the language and traditions of her intended husband. She was nearly 12 when Emperor Henry V finally married her. 

Matilda was 14 when she accompanied her husband in the fight against the Pope, who had excommunicated him. Despite her youth, she was fully imbued with political power. Once they reached Rome, Matilda was formally crowned as Empress. A couple years later, Henry left her as his regent in his Italian territories while he returned to Germany to deal with issues there. After a couple of years, they were reunited but still had no children. When he died of cancer, Matilda was 23. Her childlessness left her in a politically ambiguous state. It was not long before she decided to leave Germany forever and pursue another opportunity that fate had presented her. 

Her family had been rocked by tragedy. First, her mother had died in 1118. Then, two years later, her only legitimate sibling, Prince William Adelin had died in a tragic shipwreck. With no legitimate sons to succeed him, King Henry remarried the young Adeliza of Louvain (see my post The Not-So-Wicked Stepmother) but that marriage remained childless. Running out of options, Henry summoned Empress Matilda back to England and Normandy to proclaim her as his heir. The move was unprecedented; no woman had assumed kingship before. However, Henry was a powerful king and the nobles swore their allegiance to his daughter. 

As for Matilda, despite her glorious title and her now glorious future, she still had no authority over her life. Hoping to get grandsons to eventually succeed himself, he forced Matilda into another marriage, this time to a mere count. Geoffrey of Anjou was considered a handsome man. More importantly, his French territories bordered Henry's Norman lands, providing more military might for Henry and for Matilda in the future. Matilda was unimpressed. She had been married to one of the most powerful men of the error and reigned with him as an Empress. Worse than that, perhaps, Geoffrey was only 15 while Matilda was 26 when they married in the summer of 1128. Worse still, the couple really did not like each other and was not long before they started living separately. Realizing this would prevent the birth of a male heir, King Henry forced them back together. Their first son was finally born in March 1133. Not surprisingly, he was called Henry. A year later, her second son Geoffrey's birth nearly killed Matilda. 

The couple spent all of these years living in Anjou and Normandy. They began to be concerned that they were losing English support and demanded that the King give them authority in Normandy. He refused. Geoffrey and Matilda, united by ambition, joined a rebellion in southern Normandy. During this struggle, the 67-year-old king died from a sudden illness at the end of 1136. Matilda and Geoffrey moved immediately to secure their power in Normandy, but then they paused while Matilda awaited the birth of their third and final child, William.

In England, Henry's nephew Stephen wasted no time asserting his claim as an adult male heir even though his royal descent was through the female line, Henry's sister Adela. Stephen secured the support of many nobles, including Matilda's powerful older but illegitimate brother Robert of Gloucester. Then, Stephen got his own brother, Henry Bishop of Winchester, to crown him as king. For most people, the fact that he was male gave him a strong enough claim over Matilda. The fact that he was in England did not hurt his cause. Then, once he was anointed and crowned, his reign was sealed by God himself.

Stephen had grown up in his uncle King Henry's court. His military prowess had been well-rewarded by the king with riches and lands. He was well-liked among the Anglo-Norman nobility. And, he was a man. He quickly gathered a following and secured England as his own. At this time, the English and Norman titles had gone through several contested successions from William the Conqueror's defeat of Harold Godwinson to the battle between William's two eldest sons that split the two countries apart until his third son King Henry reunited them by force. The need for might to make right led many to doubt the ability of a woman to lead.

Stephen almost immediately faced ambushes from either end of the kingdom from both Scotland and Wales, losing territory to both. Securing Normandy was an even bigger challenge. Geoffrey had successfully launched a scorched earth strategy that allowed him to keep moving forward without having to hold or administer the land he captured. As Stephen lost support of more and more Norman nobles, partly because Stephen had spent the treasury and could not reward his allies nor pay his mercenaries. At one point, his army even split in half and battled itself, nobles versus mercenaries. Most critically, he lost the support of Matilda's illegitimate half-brother Robert of Gloucester, who held extensive land and wealth on both sides of the Channel.

King David of Scotland continued invading from the north, pushing all the way to York, claiming he did so in support of his niece Empress Matilda. Robert's declaration for Matilda started a rebellion in Kent and across southwest England. Meanwhile, he remained in Normandy, helping Matilda build an invasion force. They finally invaded England, which had descended into chaos and civil war, in the summer of 1139. Matilda's stepmother invited her to land at Arundel Castle, where Stephen encircled them while Robert led forces northward. Stephen, however, was unsure how to deal with two such highly ranked ladies and eventually allowed Matilda to leave and rejoin Robert, who was fighting in the west. (See my post Royal Escape Artist). 

Matilda's influence was growing, extending across the southwest in Devon and Cornwall up to the Welsh marshes and Herefordshire. The two sides skirmished back and forth until another defection from Stephen's side gave Matilda a powerful upper hand. In February 1141, Robert of Gloucester captured Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln. With her rival in custody, Matilda pushed forward with a deal she had made with his brother Bishop Henry. In return for control of the church, the Bishop gave her the nearly empty treasury and excommunicated any of Stephen's supporters who refused to change sides. On April 7, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leading clergy declared Matilda "Lady of the English" and began making plans for her coronation.

Matilda made her way to London to be crowed in June, but tensions in the city were still high. The historians of the day--all male, of course--alleged that Matilda grew even more pompous than she usually was. In becoming a female King, she was no longer behaving in accordance with her gender role. Just before her planned crowning, the Londoners rose up against her, forcing her faction to flee to Oxford. As some turncoats turned back to Stephen's cause and Stephen's wife, Queen Matilda, led his supporters and soon captured Robert of Gloucester. Queen Matilda and Empress Matilda agreed to exchange their high value prisoners, returning Stephen to his wife and Robert to his sisters. Shortly thereafter, the church leaders changed their minds again and re-crowned Stephen on Christmas 1141. 

Robert of Gloucester crossed the channel to assist Count Geoffrey against the Anglo Norman nobles battling to maintain their own power. This left Matilda alone at Oxford Castle, which Stephen soon besieged. By the first snows of late 1142, Matilda executed another bold plan, sneaking out of the castle and crossing a frozen river in the dead of night.  (See my post Royal Escape Artist). 

With Robert's return to England in 1143, Matilda's position improved for a bit, but the civil war soon devolved into back-and-forth struggles, with various nobles switching from one side to the other, temporarily boosting whoever they newly supported. As for Matilda, she could never quite consolidate her power. The war between the cousins limped along during the rest of the decade as various nobles decamped to join the Second Crusade or made peace locally to protect their own land and power. Neither Stephen nor Matilda were greatly esteemed.

However, the war had dragged on long enough that Matilda's son Henry had grown into a strong teenage commander. Matilda returned to Normandy while Henry led the efforts in England. Henry secured the support of the French king for Henry while Count Geoffrey convinced the Pope to endorse Henry before Geoffrey died in 1151. Matilda had effectively vacated her claim to her son.

In 1153, Empress Matilda returned to England but by then only Stephen and Henry were interested in the fight. Everyone else pushed for a truce that was brokered by the church. Henry recognized Stephen as king in return for being named as Stephen's heir. It was an uneasy peace that may not have lasted had Stephen not died the following year. 

Initially, Henry and Matilda issued charters jointly, with Matilda primarily administering Normandy while Henry focused on his father's Angevin lands, England, and the powerful Aquitaine that he had acquired by marrying the dynamic former French queen consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Like many leaders of the day, Matilda focused on the church in her later years, but never fully yielded her royal authority. As Henry and Eleanor took on more and more power, Matilda passed away in 1167, leaving everything to the church. She was 65 years old.


Boudica, Queen of the Iceni 
Empress Matilda 
Margaret Maid of Norway 
Lady Jane Grey
Queen Mary I - coming in June 2024
Queen Elizabeth I - coming in July 2024
Mary Queen of Scots - coming in August 2024
Queen Mary II - coming in September 2024
Queen Anne - coming in October 2024
Queen Victoria - coming in November 2024
Queen Elizabeth II - coming in December 2024


The Not-So-Wicked Stepmother
Royal Escape Artist
Today's Princess


Great by Birth: Empress Matilda on Plantagenet Lions
Lady of the English on The Mad Monarchist
The Empress Matilda on Dangerous Women
Empress Matilda on Emily Kittel-Queller
The Empress Matilda on History Is Important
Empress Matilda on Meandering through Time
Empress Matilda on Sagas of She
Empress Matilda on Sheroes of History
Empress Matilda and 'The Anarchy' on The Historic England Blog
Empress Matilda, Lady of the English on Oxford Castle & Prison
Empress Matilda's Bling on Living the History
Empress Maud on Historic UK
Historic Figures: Matilda on BBC History